During their annual retreat, deacons of the Diocese of Gallup reflected on the theme of “discipleship”, under the guidance of special retreat master Archbishop John Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Archbishop Wester focused specifically on three aspects of discipleship: Baptism, suffering, and the role of Mary in the Church.
Starting with Baptism, Deacon Timoteo Lujan recalled that the Archbishop emphasized “that a vocation to anything – ordained ministry, or professed religious life – is fundamentally rooted in Baptism. Everybody has a unique way in which they work out their holiness.”
Lujan is a deacon for several parish communities in and around Grants, NM. As a co-leader of the diaconate program for the Diocese, alongside Deacon Frank Chavez from Farmington, he oversees the formation of deacon candidates and helps to organize retreats. He noted that the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which falls on September 15, was an especially appropriate day for the retreat weekend.
“[Archbishop Wester] spent a good deal of time talking about the value of suffering, and that great mystery that is associated with how suffering is redemptive,” Lujan said.
Deacon Todd Church, who also serves in Grants, was similarly struck by reflections on the Blessed Mother.
“[Archbishop Wester] started each session with Scripture and focused a lot on Mary, and her as the example of what a disciple is,” Church said. “He would break open each of the readings and help us to apply it to our own lives – Mary saying yes to God through her fiat, being at the foot of Jesus’ cross…he had a lot of good things that he brought forward for us.”
These reflections on suffering eventually evolved into discussions on the latest national abuse crisis.
“Some of the deacons were very earnest in their questioning about what’s going on,” said Lujan. “And Archbishop [Wester] didn’t back down from it at all, he didn’t say ‘that’s not what this is about’ – he was very honest and he answered all of our questions to the very best of his ability.”
Lujan noted that the Archbishop was able to tie the crisis back into the themes of the retreat weekend.
“He did say that he really felt that this is a great time of purification for the Church, and growth, to really come to terms with who we are, and to strengthen ourselves to be all the more ready to build the kingdom of God,” Lujan said. “And that was really a big component – the need for transformation. The need for transformation of the individual Christian, the need for transformation of the local community, the transformation of the Diocesan church, and eventually the whole Church.”
The majority of the retreat consisted of hour-long blocks of sessions led by the Archbishop, interspersed with time for reflection about each topic. The deacons and Archbishop Wester also prayed the liturgy of the hours, took meals together, and had the opportunity to make confession. The Archbishop also celebrated a Mass on Saturday and Sunday.
“For us, for a retreat, it’s not a time with a whole lot of busyness, but with a lot of time for reflection,” said Church. “One of the best things about it, besides the retreat aspect, is the chance to spend time with my fellow deacons and my brothers in Christ, building relationships and talking about our ministries and talking about the challenges we face and some of the things that go well for us. It’s a great time for camaraderie and building brotherhood.”
This is the ninth retreat Church has attended.
“When I first started I was just a candidate, but I didn’t see the sense of unity that I see now, that we’ve built as a group of deacons. I have to give a lot of credit to Deacon [Lujan] and Deacon Frank [Chavez] for putting good retreats together and giving us enough time outside of the actual talks to get to know each other better.”
Just like priests, deacons – as ordained clergy – are required to make a retreat at least once a year. For Deacon Lujan, this time away helps a deacon to grow as a better leader, clergyman, and evangelist.
“You know, there’s an old adage: you can’t give what you don’t have. And a deacon is a spiritual leader in the community, and in the workplace,” Lujan said. “It’s not my preaching with my words…I have to carry myself in behavior that is consistent with my state in life. A deacon, in his life, especially because they live and move in the world in a way that priests and bishops do not – it’s very important for them to be very well grounded in their spirituality. An authentic spirituality of the Church.”
This was another area in which Lujan found Archbishop Wester’s reflections to be particularly helpful.
“He was a priest of San Francisco, he was the bishop of Salt Lake City – the state of Utah – and he’s the Archbishop of Santa Fe – having that experience. So that perspective from a bishop, you know, in his own relationship with deacons and their families.”
And in a Diocese which spans vast distances, the ability to see fellow Deacons who live far away is also valuable.
“The importance of the diaconate community is that we are present to one another in the spiritual and the prayerful sense,” said Lujan. “And the theme of the retreat was to be disciples of Jesus specifically as ordained clergy so that we can be present to the people of God, and using our own gifts, talents, abilities to building up the kingdom in whatever way each of us has been called to do so.”
Deacon Church considers his vocation to be one of his life’s greatest sources of joy, and concluded his interview with the Voice with an invitation.
“If there are any men out there that are wondering if [the Diaconate] is something they’re called to do, don’t hesitate to open the door and answer Christ. The blessings that come with it are more than I ever would have expected, and the graces are incredible.”